This is your last semester of your undergraduate career. You are about to end one exciting chapter of your life, and begin another. Before you embark on your post-undergrad journey, here is a list of 5 things to take advantage of before you lose your student status that will give you a significant edge when applying for your first job, and for applying to graduate or professional programs in the future.
1) Gather a List of References
One of the most important things you come away with from your undergraduate career are the connections you have made. Your friends in college will often become friends for life. You should see some of your professors, mentors and advisors as lifelong connections, too. As you are looking for your first job out of college, or if you are applying straight into a program, you will need a list of references who will be willing to talk to potential employers or admissions committees about what makes you a great applicant. You should also maintain a relationship with these individuals for when you need career advice, references or mentorship in the future.
Reach out to three to five references that you have worked closely with, ideally, for an extended period of time. Be sure that these individuals can comment on the quality of your work, your skillset and your strong interpersonal skills. Their ability to comment on your fit and potential for your career and graduate education aspirations is also important. Professors, supervisors from jobs or internships you held in undergrad, graduate student mentors, and project leads you worked under are good choices.
After you have selected your references, reach out to them to see if they would be willing to serve as a “strong” reference. Inform them of your post-graduation path and plans and the kinds of positions or programs you want to pursue. Provide your resume and cover letters and if necessary highlights of your work with them. Talk with them about the key points you would like them to highlight. Be sure that you have contact information from them that will last a while. You may also want to add them on LinkedIn or friend them on Facebook. It’s also a good idea to give them a heads up if an employer or program will reach out to them soon or when you may circle back with them. If you want them to be a reference for graduate school but will not be applying for a while, decide on the best way to periodically update them on your progress and plans. It is important to maintain the relationship over time.
2) Set Up a Recommendation Letter Service
Some of your references may also be great candidates for writing recommendation letters for graduate or professional school. While your work and your contributions are still fresh in their minds, ask if they will write a meaningful letter of recommendation for your program of choice. Have a draft statement of purpose and your transcript ready. Keep in mind that the statement you provide does not need to be in it’s final form, especially if you are still a few years from applying. At this point, have a statement ready that is the appropriate length for your program of choice and one that fits in with a typical prompt. The personal stories, experiences and interests you highlight in this statement will help your recommender write a letter to compliment your statement, drawing from the experiences that they had with you. You can also provide them with some brief bullet points about things you would like them to emphasize in their letter.
Most colleges and universities have a letter service that keeps letters of rec on file for a certain number of years. This means you can ask for a rec letter now rather than a few years from now when you are ready to apply. When you are ready to apply to a program, you can log into this service and send letters of recommendation directly to programs, instead of asking your recommenders to send letters for you. However, do keep in mind that you may want them to update the letter as you learn more about the programs, advance in your career and refine the points you want to make to demonstrate your fit with the program. Check with your career center for the specifics on the services your school provides. Often, you must pay to use this service. The reason you need to set up this service now is that the price will often increase significantly the moment you are no longer a current student. Take advantage of your student status now.
3) Create or Update Your Resume
Landing your first job out of undergrad cannot be done without a resume. If you have one already, be sure to update all of your experiences, awards and skills before you send it out. There is not one correct way to make a resume, but career counselors and mentors can provide feedback and guidance on how to make a resume tailored to your field of interest. Even if you are applying directly to grad school, you should make a resume as a way to orient yourself and look at the experiences you have had, and how long they lasted. If it is an option, you should always include a resume with your graduate school application so that it can communicate key details that you don’t have to include in other word limited statements. You will very likely need to make multiple versions that are compatible to the different positions you apply to. Limit your resume to one page. If your experience truly warrants or you are applying for more of an academic position a page and a half may be appropriate.
There are many templates that you can download to a word processing program, but it’s often best to create your format directly into a word processing program to avoid issues with formatting later as you add more experiences to your resume. You can find nicely formatted resume examples online, or ask a mentor for their resume to get an example of how to organize your own. Always have someone else look at your resume to proofread and provide feedback. For more on resumes please see the My HCN webinar on How to Write a Resume and Cover Letter That Gets You a Job Interview.
4) Utilize Your Career Center or Career Library
While you are still a student, access any resources you have to help make applying to jobs or schools easier. Your career center or career library is a great place to take advantage of before you graduate. This is a place where you can explore potential careers, get career counseling, have someone look at your resume or stage a mock interview to help you practice your interviewing skills. You can also take helpful career related assessments. Set up a recommendation service the fist time you visit, pick up a few flyers to see what kinds of services and events you’re your center can provide for you and add yourself to any email lists that might serve you after graduation. Some companies also visit career centers as a way to recruit employees. See this post on What Employers Look for in Recent Graduates to get an idea of what to ask about when you visit your career center or library.
Career Centers also often have career fairs and networking events as graduation approaches. They may also be able to provide examples or connect you to alumni who are working in the kinds of fields or companies you want to pursue. Find out if you can use these services, if needed, after you graduate and how you can stay abreast of opportunities available.
5) Research The Requirements of Graduate or Professional Schools That Interest You
If you already had an idea of what you wanted to do going forward as an undergraduate, you may have already completed some of the requirements for the kind of graduate or professional school you want to attend. If you still aren’t sure, don’t worry. You have plenty of time to figure out what interests you, and your first jobs out of school will likely help you narrow down your interests. In fact, many health professions graduate programs prefer or require paid post-graduation work experience.
Alongside any coursework required for graduate and professional schools, you want to consider other program suggestions or requirements such as paid work experience or clinical experience. Physician Assistant programs, such as the MS in Physician Assistant Studies at Stanford University, strongly recommends 500 hours of clinical experience before applying to the program. Other schools may recommend or require job experience before applying. See our blog post on The Importance of Paid Work Experience Before Graduate School for more information and ideas.
As you begin to narrow down your interests, look at schools and programs that fit your passions. Explore dual degree programs that might offer an extra master’s degree to expand upon your knowledge base and skill set for your dream career. Consider where these programs are located. Do you want to live in this place for a few to several years? Is there an option to study abroad? Find programs that fit you best, and don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you have questions.
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Want more information on boosting your credentials, landing a great job and finding your authentic health career? Check out our past blogs posts for specifics on applying, interviewing, areas of employment growth in healthcare, and more.